The British helicopter pilot, John Nowell, was astonished. He was flying over a remote rocky plateau in the Al Hajar ash-Sharqiyah mountains of Oman, when he saw dozens of unusual conical stone towers dotting the landscape. The rest of the world had no idea they existed.
Older than the pyramids of Egypt and hidden in the remote desert mountains of Oman, the beehive shaped tombs were only rediscovered by chance in the 1990s.
In 2013, Barcelona based photographer, Oriol Alamany, and his wife set off with a map, a 15 year old scientific article, mobile phone, GPS and a 4WD vehicle to look for the tombs. With only little (and vague) information to guide them, they set off on their quest along perilous gravel tracks, braving switchback roads in the southeastern end of the Al Hajar mountains.
It was magnificent. We saw dozens of towers of many different heights were scattered all over the surrounding hills and cliffs, bathed in the golden evening light that now filtered through the clouds.
The towers themselves are around 5,000 years old and are funerary relics from a time when Oman was known as Magan and trade with Mesopotamia was the source of its wealth. Funerary towers are not new discovery in Oman, or in the Gulf states, but it is the excellent state of preservation which makes the Shir tombs special as Alamany’s photos show.
A genuine tale of discovery and adventure and a tantalising hint of what further archaeological treasures may still lie undiscovered in the mountains of the Arabian peninsula.
Oriol Alamany is a photographer specialising in wildlife and the natural world. HIs article on the Oman tombs was originally published in National Geographic (Spanish & Portuguese edition). More of his photos from Oman are on flicker:
If you’re interested in reading more about Oman you may want to see Jan Morris’ book, Sultan in Oman: